I hope I am not the only one who finds it ironic that during the same week that Yale reveals its intention to take serious steps to improve students’ ability to understand and prevent instances of sexual harassment and assault, Dean Mary Miller drops the ball, big time.
Yesterday’s article in the News, “Vulgar e-mail targets freshmen,” described an e-mail that circulated recently, rating a group of freshman women based on their physical attractiveness. The News described vulgar comments made about photos of these women, as well as crude puns made about each, declaring whether that woman was sexually desirable.
The article also revealed that many residential college deans took pains to mitigate the negative effects of the e-mail, either by addressing freshmen themselves or by instructing the freshman counselors to be prepared to provide support. This reaction suggests that I am not alone in believing that the e-mail had “the effect of … creating an intimidating or hostile academic or work environment” — the definition of sexual harassment used by the Undergraduate Regulations. And yet a quote by Dean Mary Miller expresses doubt as to whether a violation of these regulations took place.
It is a terrible shame that she should express the belief that there is any kind of ambiguity surrounding whether such actions are acceptable at Yale. The women described are highly gifted intellectuals, artists and athletes. The class of 2013 faced the toughest admissions odds to date, and since Yale admits a greater percentage of its male applicants than of its female applicants, women who apply must be even more competitive. Representing them as though they were merely sexual objects is degrading to these women in the same way that use of blackface is degrading to individuals of African descent in representing them as clownish buffoons.
If Yale is serious about better educating the student body about issues of sexual harassment and assault, the administrators must take a stronger stance in condemning behavior that uses gender as the basis for deliberate degradation. They must come out and say that sexism is just as insidious and unacceptable as other forms of prejudice, and show through action that it will not be tolerated.
The writer is a senior in Branford College.